Friday, June 3, 2011

Called to be Church in the 21st century

There was an event that happened on one of my visits that embodied how we might find our way ahead.  The people from Fraser Presbytery have heard this story, and those from Kootenay Presbytery are likely to remember this event as I was visiting a Presbytery there about a year ago.  In the closing worship service, I was asked to offer the sermon, which I did.  In the middle of the sermon, I heard something fluttering above my head.  I also noticed several people in the congregation had shifted their attention from me to the ceiling. 

So I, too, looked up to the ceiling to see a wild thing flapping about.  It was small, and at first I thought it was a Kootenay- sized moth.  But upon closer examination, I saw that it was a tiny hummingbird.  On this fine May morning in Nakusp, we had the doors of the church open, and a hummingbird had flown into the sanctuary to grace us with its presence.  I thought this was really cool and perhaps a lovely symbol of the Holy Spirit descending upon this faithful crowd.

But it became quickly apparent that this hummingbird was in distress.  It was not thinking about blessing or prayer.  It just wanted to get out.  You could feel the attention of the whole room focus on the hummingbird, who was now bashing itself against the florescent light thinking that was a window for escape. 

We didn’t know what to do.  Someone tried to reach up with a broom and guide the hummingbird out, but that only freaked him out even more. 
Someone else suggested we turn out the lights so it wouldn’t be fooled by the light.  We did that.  Someone else suggested we all quiet down so we don’t startle it even more.  We did that too.  Some else suggested we pray and imagine the bird to safely fly out the door.  We did that. 

As you can see, by now my sermon was trashed.  We had another sermon on our hands and talking wouldn’t do; we needed to act.  One person had the clever but wishful idea that perhaps if we took the red flowers that were at the front of the church and lifted it to the hummingbird, the bird would be attracted to red and follow the flowers outside. So they tried it.

It didn’t work.  It also probably didn’t help that the flowers were plastic.
Then someone had the smart idea of mixing sugar with water, and baptizing the flowers with sugar water.  Very clever.  So we tried it.  It didn’t work. 
Easily ten minutes had passed by this time.  The person with the plastic red geraniums sprinkled with sugar water was standing by the door, trying to visually entice the hummingbird while the rest of us concentrated on imagining the hummingbird safely making his exit.

Suddenly Jeff Seaton had an idea.  It too was a far-fetched idea but why not try it?  Jeff remembered that just the other day he had downloaded a “bird call app” on his iphone.  So he checked to see if he had a hummingbird call.  He did.  But he didn’t know if it was the right kind of hummingbird or if it was perhaps a competitor who would mostly scare the bejeebers out of our already dazed and petrified bird. 

So Jeff walked back to the plastic red geranium sprinkled with sugar water and let his app do its thing.  Still quiet, we all heard, “tzch, tzch, tzch!”  It got the bird’s attention.  Again, “tzch, tzch, tzch!”  And incredibly, amazingly, it worked.  It was a wonder to behold.  The hummingbird flew to the flower, perched, and allowed itself to be carried out the door like an emperor on a throne.

We all broke into wild applause.
That was the sermon for the day.  And the message is this: a familiar way of being church was suddenly and unexpectedly interrupted.  We were presented with a challenge to which no one knew the answer.  We collaborated, cooperated, people brainstormed, we tried several ideas, several of them didn’t work on their own, but we kept building on the ideas until, to our amazement, all the pieces came together and the bird was rescued, leading to a spontaneous celebration.  Beautiful!
That’s how we’re called to be Church in the 21st century.  There it is, in the story of the hummingbird: when we work creatively and passionately together with one heart and mind, we may by the grace of God stumble upon a way forward.
We might all be encouraged by the words of Wendell Barry:
It may be when we no longer know what to do,
We have come to our real work,
And when we no longer know where to go,
We have come upon our real journey.

(excerpt taken from President Dan Chambers address at BC Conference May 26-29th, 2011)

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